Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” premiered in theaters on Nov. 25. Although this film, like all of Pixar’s other films, features a white male lead, the short playing before it has proven to be groundbreaking. “Sanjay’s Super Team” features Pixar’s first non-white lead character, and non-white lead voice actor. The short is a true story based on the childhood of Pixar’s supervising animator, Sanjay Patel. Patel has worked both in this capacity and as a storyboard artist with Pixar for 20 years. He has dedicated the short to his father, because it depicts his early relationship with him. Patel expressed his excitement at the opportunity to not only tell his story and relate further to his father, but to participate in Pixar’s step towards ethnic diversity.
“Sanjay’s Super Team” depicts Sanjay as a young boy in America with his immigrant family from India. His father practices Hinduism, and encourages Sanjay to practice the rituals alongside him. Although Sanjay would far rather be playing and thinking of his own childhood interests, Sanjay soon finds that the rituals do not seem so far-removed from him after all. While participating in a ritual, the Hindu gods turn into superheroes in Sanjay’s mind, which ends up strengthening Sanjay’s relationship with his father. Sanjay develops an interest in the religion, and is able to better understand his own cultural background.
The short is meant as a commentary on Sanjay’s childhood experience, growing up an Indian immigrant in America. Sanjay often felt caught between his own heritage and American popular culture. Sanjay described feeling, “embarrassed” by his own culture, and trying to fit in as an American boy. However, as Sanjay reached adulthood, he has explained his ability to appreciate and take pride in the religion and culture taught to him by his father. “Sanjay’s Super Team” depicts this transformation delightfully, and will hopefully encourage other young children of color to embrace their own cultures, as well.
Although I consider this short a great triumph in the diversity arena, I must acknowledge how disheartening it is that it took Pixar 29 years to create a narrative centered on a person of color. It seems that the movie world is slow in catching up to the television world’s recent progress in this arena. However, Pixar is set to release another significantly more diverse film (this time, full-length) in November, 2016: “Moanna,” which stars a female Polynesian lead. Pixar also recently filled a new position titled Head of Inclusion and Diversity, which sounds like a promising step in the right direction.
According to USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, there was a 25 percent between 2007 and 2014 in animated underrepresented characters—characters of color or who identify as female. This progress feels significant, although diversity is clearly still lacking. “Sanjay’s Super Team” makes me feel hopeful, however. Considering the short not only features a family of color, but a polytheistic religion, I think Pixar has really branched out. The story feels poignant and relevant, and I hope it serves as a catalyst towards cultural acceptance among its audiences, young and old.